Brian Beach stands next to Tiger dam set up in Kelowna’s Milbridge Park along Mill Creek. Photo: Barry Gerding/Black Press

Rising groundwater aggravates Okanagan flood concerns

Westside landslides example of ground saturation impact

High groundwater levels continue to cause flooding havoc across the Central Okanagan, say Central Okanagan Emergency Operation Centre officials.

Brian Beach, City of Kelowna infrastructure delivery manager and EOC operations chief, says the frustration of the massive amounts of groundwater is off-set by the positive preparations for expectant high water flow levels for creeks and streams feeding into Okanagan Lake.

Beach says high water level of ponds along Glenmore Road, landslides along Westside Road and flooding occurring at the base of hills across the regional district such as Kirschner Mountain is due to ground saturation.

Related: Okanagan working overtime to prepare for flooding

“People who have little creeks running through their properties for a couple of weeks a year are seeing a torrent of water coming down those creeks right now,” said Beach. “That is a wake-up call for residents of the need to make sure those channels and culverts are not obstructed. Unfortunately, that is the new reality with the high groundwater.”

On the flooding side, preparations have been underway for weeks at a cost so far of $2 million within the regional district, and that figure is expected to rise.

More than two million sandbags have been filled with the assistance of 160 BC Wildfire Service firefighters, along with stringing out 9.8 kms of Tiger dams and 11 kms of Gabion basket dams.

Those efforts are expected to intensify as the full impact of the freshet descends through the valley watershed to Okanagan Lake.

The Brendan Mine snow pillow recording station has already crested and is starting to fall, while snow pillows at higher elevations have not reached peak melting flows, expected to occur within the next three to four weeks.

“We are watching the water levels on a daily basis and right now we see a bit of a problem with the rising level of Duck Lake and threatening high water issues along Middle Vernon Creek in through Winfield which we are addressing with our provincial crews,” Beach said.

“We are also working with the Okanagan Indian Band on this as some of that is on their territory. Other than that, right now we are in good shape.”

Beach said their fingers are crossed that the current weather trend—no precipitation, cooler nights, mid-to high-20s C day temperatures—will continue over the next month.

“We are better prepared than last year because we can see what’s coming, but if we get a lot of rain and it all comes down at once I’m not sure if we can ever be prepared for that,” he said.

Beach reiterated the responsibility that falls on homeowners to protect their own properties, as the EOC’s mandate lies in protecting public infrastructure such as roads and utilities.

“There has been some benefit in our preparations along Mill Creek that residents see protection placed on their properties because of concerns for their yards flooding and water spilling onto the roads,” Beach said.

“But we are seeing an uptake of people picking up sandbags. We all know the potential for flooding but sometimes until you see it first-hand it doesn’t hit home. But you see the flooding in Oliver and Tulameen and that should serve as a warning of what’s potentially coming.”

He added the controversy about the removal of willow trees along Mill Creek next to Parkinson Recreation Centre was done with the assistance of arborists and government ministry approvals.

“Some people were upset about that but you have to realize that while those big willows trees look nice, they are in essence a weed tree, they clog waterways, they rot and fall into creeks and become a flood hazard,” Beach said.

“The concern in that area becomes if the channel is blocked, and flooding occurs it could cause problems along the highway. Those willows will be replaced with a better species of trees, set back further from the creek shoreline, and will look better than ever in no time.”

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